The Role of Product Data Management in Improving Engineering Efficiency
Research on today’s manufacturing environment makes three things clear. The first is that manufacturers must innovate to capture their share of lower sales volumes. The second is that they must bring products to market faster to combat hungry, global competitors. The third is that manufacturers are running very lean due to price pressure from customers and the recent economic downturn. The combination of tough markets, reduced headcount, tight budgets, and aggressive new product development targets means that manufacturers need to be able to design and develop products extremely efficiently to get the most out of their engineering efforts.
Leading manufacturers are leveraging engineering software to provide the product development efficiency they need to survive tough times. For many companies this starts with an investment in world class Computer Aided Design (CAD). These tools help engineers better communicate product designs with Manufacturing and other departments to improve product development cycles. But these tools also add complexity to managing files, making the use of shared folders and other informal data management processes ineffective.
In order to manage the complexity, manufacturers are turning to data management solutions to share product data across the business through a central repository. These systems go by many different names, including Product Data Management (PDM), Collaborative Product Data Management (CPDM), Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), Engineering Document (or Data) Management (EDM), and others. The core requirement of each of these systems is to get engineering data securely under control and make it easily accessible to those who need it. Product data management is the fundamental building block of any engineering software strategy and helps companies get the most out of their precious engineering resources. “The key is product integrity,” explains Ken Lechner, Vice President of Engineering for AMETEK Technical and Industrial Products. “With PDM, we don’t wonder what the right revision is and don’t need to go to multiple places to find it. We know it is the latest revision and that it has gone through the approval process.”
PDM provides the foundation needed to improve product development and engineering performance. Once product data is under control, manufacturers can streamline and automate product-related processes such as transmittals and engineering change orders. It also enables information sharing with other parts of the business that play important roles in developing high quality, profitable products. In fact, as PDM gets established, other departments such as Manufacturing, Quality, Purchasing, Sales, and Marketing frequently recognize the value of extending PDM to manage their product-related information. These improvements rely on a foundation of accurate, current engineering data. The result is that PDM has become a mission critical initiative that enables faster, more effective product development by managing and sharing product data across departmental boundaries.
PDM and the Business Strategy
Manufacturers must focus engineering systems strategies on supporting their business strategy. Whether a company chooses to compete as an innovator, a fast-follower, a low-cost provider, or an alternative strategy, their engineering software must help them achieve that position. PDM is a critical element of any engineering strategy and can help companies realize their targeted market position.
For example, one proven business strategy is to grow by acquisition. AMETEK, who manufactures rotary and linear motion control products and electronic instruments, has adopted this approach. “Our objective is to grow by acquiring companies with complementary technologies,” explains Ken Lechner, Vice President of Engineering for AMETEK. “Our division has had five acquisitions over the last 12 years, and we now have nine engineering locations and nine manufacturing locations globally.” Their PDM strategy, then, must support a distributed environment for both product design and production.